Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. are arguably two of the biggest names in comics, so when the two superstars began collaborating on Icon’s “Kick-Ass,” the title was an instant hit with fans and certainly lived up to its name. Now, before the first arc of the comic has even finished being published, “Stardust” director Matthew Vaughn has already made it in to a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage (“Ghost Rider”), slated for a 2010 release.
Millar is best known for his work on super-hero books such as “The Authority,” “Superman: Red Son,” “Ultimates 1 & 2,” ” Wolverine” and “Civil War.” But of course Millar is also no stranger to the film world as his popular Top Cow book, “Wanted,” was made into a last summer’s smash hit film starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. John Romita Jr. is part of a comic book legacy, being the son of the famed Spider-Man artist, John Romita Sr. But after twenty-years in the business, Romita Jr. has certainly made his own name as one of the top artists in the industry with his work on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Uncanny X-men,” “Daredevil,” “Hulk” and “Wolverine.” Now the artist can add a new title to his resume – that of film director, as Vaughn has asked Romita to direct an animated sequence in the upcoming film.
The two creators were on hand in San Diego this weekend for Comic-Con International to present clips from the forthcoming film. Comic Book Resources had the opportunity to sit down and talk candidly with Millar and Romita Jr. about the film, the casting, the animated sequence, the release of the final issues of the first arc of the comic and the inevitable “Kick-Ass 2.”
CBR News: To start with, the film actually began production before the first arc of the book had even finished being published so how did that all come together?
Millar: It was just very relaxed. Matthew is a pal of mine anyways, so it was very informal. There weren’t agents involved or anything. I was just at a party at his house two years ago after “Stardust” and he said to me, “Look ‘Thor’ is not working out and I just finished ‘Stardust,’ do you got anything that’s any good?” And I was like, “I got a couple of things,” and I told him about “Kick-Ass.” I had written the first couple issues and I had the plot for the rest, fired it down and he said, “I love this. Do you mind if I start writing the screenplay?” He started writing it then eventually he was following the plot but adding in his own things too. He overtook me by the time he got to act two. We knew every scene, scene by scene what was going to be happening but he added in some great stuff. And then we contacted our agents so it was done just through nature.
So really, both projects came together at the same time, is that right?
Millar: I was maybe a month ahead, just because I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. The idea had been around for a while.
Romita Jr.: But the idea originally was just Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Originally it was just the two of them, and then Kick-Ass came in afterwards, correct?
Millar: Well yeah, a couple of years previous, I had an idea of a book called “Kick-Ass” starring Big Daddy and Hit Girl, but it just didn’t feel right. Those characters are so good, but imagine “Star Wars” starring Han Solo and Chewbacca. You had to have the identification character that was Luke Skywalker and that (for us) was Dave. It’s funny, because Matthew and I talk in “Star Wars” terms all the time, that’s our shorthand with each other. We refer to so and so as Chewy or Ben Kenobi, you know? It’s weird that structurally its like “Star Wars” and we did it subconsciously. It’s bizarre.
But the initial arc of the book will be published before the film is released, is that correct?
Millar: Are you kidding me? Of course, even if Johnny had to draw stick figures because we want that graphic novel to come out when the movie comes out. There’s no way we want to miss that.
Romita Jr.: I’m about fifteen pages away from finishing the final issue, the seventh issue comes out in a week and I’m about a third of the way through the finale.
Millar: By the time the movie comes out, we should have hopefully started on “Kick-Ass 2” as well. We’ll hopefully launch “Kick-Ass 2” out of the movie. We’d like to, hopefully…I mean Johnny and I have just talked briefly about the idea of maybe building up some issues ahead of time as well so we’re not running late. So maybe March of next year, bringing out “Kick-Ass 2.”
Romita Jr.: I won’t be doing any work on the movie, so that won’t keep me from doing my regular work.
Since you mentioned it John, you’re directing an animated sequence in the film, what was that experience like for you?
Romita Jr.: It’s more of a great story than it is an effort, because if someone tells you that you’re going to direct an animated sequence, and then do the art work for the animated sequence, people are going to think that you’re working on it for the rest of your life. What Matthew has is this great computer program that was from the Spielberg dinosaur movie, “Jurassic Park.” It’s the updated version of it that takes simple drawings and 360-degree models and you can adapt it from that. In other words you don’t have to draw 64 frames per second. Anyway he said, “Frame this section out as you would a comic and we’re going to animate it.”
What it is, is when Nicolas Cage (Big Daddy) has an origin, he tells his own story in a comic. Literally, in the story he draws a comic of his origin. His partner comes in and opens it up. We’re going to start with the cover, then the opening double page and then it’s going to morph into a animated sequence which is the origin of Big Daddy and Hit Girl. And that’s basically what it is. It’s about sixty seconds or ninety seconds depending, but Matthew’s just tweaking a few of the frames and I’ve got about sixty drawings left to go. We’ve already done the Wall of Villains. Was that yours or Matthews idea?
Millar: That was Matthew’s.
Romita Jr.: Instead of stuffing a head and putting it up on a wall, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) illustrates his conquests and puts a big X through it. So there’s a scene where all of the drawings of his conquests are up on a wall. Then there’s the cover of the comic, the initial pages, then the end it and its really cool the way it’s going to be animated, its just dynamite.
Did you enjoy the film process and directing the sequence? Is that something you would like to do again in the future?
Romita Jr.: Well it’s … yes; I would love to, absolutely. I shouldn’t even equivocate.
Mark, you’re of course familiar with the film process from working on “Wanted” but how was this experience different for you? Since you are friends with Vaughn, did it make this easier for you?
Millar: Actually (it was) much harder because with “Wanted,” all they did was give me money to go away.
Romita Jr.: I can’t wait for that to happen to me.
Millar: I just though that that was what happens. “Okay, where’s my cash and I’ll just go away?” They were like, “No, no you’re going to work here as well.” So I was involved in the casting, all the breaking down of the plot and that kind of stuff. It was kind of like a job and I wasn’t expecting that. I thought it was going to be free cash but it was like a real job. It’s great, great fun and an amazing experience for me. It’s exactly what I wanted, and I’m kind of spoiled now because Matthew is a brilliantly collaborative director. He was on the phone everyday talking at the story stage, and he did this with Neil Gaiman as well, but he wouldn’t do something that you were unhappy with. He chatted with me about even the most minor tweaks he was going to make.
Finally, were you two pleased with the casting choices for the film?
Romita Jr.: Oh, God yes. I’m completely attached to the character of Hit Girl, and Chloe (Moretz) just knocks it out of the park. That’s a breakout role right there.
Millar: The thing is, I was looking at the casting every night before I went to bed. The casting people had a web site where you put in a code and you can see that days auditions. Then you can type in some comments of what you thought of the people that you had that day. I remember the day I saw Chloe. There were a few other girls we looked at. There was Abigail Breslin and a few other big child actresses that are around now (in the running) but when I saw Chloe, I knew she was right. My God, it was like seeing Jodi Foster in “Taxi Driver” back in1976. You just thought, is that a kid or a really talented midget? I remember my daughter would sit on my knee and she’s the same age as Chloe, maybe a little younger. We would sit and look at the auditions every night. I felt kind of bad because there’s a lot of adult language in some of the auditions and I would say to Emily, “Never say these words out loud but what do you think of this girl?” She saw Chloe and she loved her so now Emily tells all her friends that she picked the lead for the movie.
“Kick-Ass” is scheduled to burst into theatres early next year.